I remember a couple years ago spending a weekend with some friends at their Bodega Bay getaway. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, and one of the highlights was walking around the grounds of the school where Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, The Birds, was filmed. But the visit was also right around the Dungeness crab opener, so needless to say we took advantage of some of the freshest shellfish you could find and had a Friday feast.
California’s Dungeness crab sport fishery opens statewide this Saturday, Nov. 1. Every year at this time, recreational crab fishers eagerly set out in pursuit of these tasty crustaceans. Some set hoop nets and crab traps from boats and piers while others fish crab loop traps on the end of a fishing rod. Still others will dive in to take the crabs by hand. Regardless of the method, Dungeness crabs are one of California’s most popular shellfish.
“Dungeness crab catches tend to be cyclic with several years of high crab numbers followed by a few years of lower catches,” said CDFW Environmental Scientist Christy Juhasz. “Recent seasons have been characterized by high Dungeness crab production so we may begin to see more average catches in the near future.”
The most popular methods for catching the crustaceans are with crab pots (or traps), loop traps and hoop nets. There is no limit to the number of pots or nets that can be fished recreationally, except when fishing from a public fishing pier where only two fishing appliances may be used. Recreational crabbers may keep up to 10 Dungeness crabs per day of either sex, or six crabs if fishing from a party boat south of Mendocino County. No one may possess more than one daily bag limit, and no Dungeness crab may be taken from San Francisco or San Pablo bays, which are important crab nursery areas.
CDFW reminds sport crabbers that traps and nets for Dungeness crab may not be set before 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1. Those fishing with hoop nets should remember that regulations require raising the nets to the surface to inspect the contents at least every two hours. Any undersized crabs or other species that are accidentally caught can be more quickly released. This regulation ensures that fishermen closely monitor their gear and do not allow any equipment to be abandoned in state waters. Trap fishermen should also closely monitor their traps because lost trap gear can become a self-baiting crab killer.
The recreational size limit for Dungeness crab is five and three-quarter inches measured across the shell, directly in front of and excluding the lateral spines. Crab taken from party boats south of Mendocino County must measure at least six inches across. For a measurement diagram, please see the CDFW website athttps://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=36325&inline=true.
Unlike rock crab species that are fished along rocky reefs, Dungeness crab are usually found on sandy or sand-mud bottoms. Dungeness crabs generally prefer cooler northern and central California waters and are uncommon south of Point Conception. They are typically found at depths of less than 300 feet, although they have been documented down to 750 feet.